Winter Cover Crops

I love your questions and, nothing makes me happier then helping you solve your gardening conundrums. I think my latest question could help a lot of us, myself included, who were completely overwhelmed this holiday season.

“I haven’t had time with the holidays to plant a fall/winter garden but I don’t want to just leave my soil bare over the winter. This last spring I planted heavy feeders so I know my soil is lacking nitrogen. What can you recommend that is fast and easy?”


This sounds like the perfect situation for a cover crop! You plant the seeds, add water and then watch it grow. You’re protecting your soil from erosion, weeds, giving it nutrients and in some cases helping to break up heavy soils. Now the question is which one do you choose? It needs to be able to overwinter which in our mild climate is not saying much, as well as fix nitrogen in the soil and be ready to turn under when it’s time for spring planting. Here are my favorites:

1. Fenugreek* – This first one is a legume, so it’s definitely going to fix nitrogen and, it has no problem germinating in cool soils (even surviving frost), plus it’s non-invasive and it grows fast giving you enough time to turn it under before spring planting.

2. Berseem Clover* – Another great nitrogen fixer this one also germinates in cooler soils. Make sure you plan out your calendar though as you turn it under after 30 – 60 days and then leave your soil to rest for about 4 weeks. As an added bonus the flowers are a great food source for honeybees.

3. Fava Beans* – This cover crop not only feeds your soil but you as well. While fixing nitrogen it produces 7″ – 8″ pods as well as beautiful black and white flowers that provide some much needed winter food for beneficial insects. It should be ready to turn under in about 30 – 40 days with time set aside for it to break down.

4. Austrian Field Pea* – With this beauty you will get a little less nitrogen than the clover will provide your soil, but as a trade off you get much faster growth and it will break down faster.

* Most of these nitrogen fixers will need to be inoculated and this video provides a great introduction, however with your seeds a bucket will do just fine. You can also find many seeds that are pre-inoculated.


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